Seeing Paradise From Behind a Dashboard

I loved it. As I said earlier, our trips to the movies were few and far between, so when we went, the experience of seeing one on a big screen was usually, for me, pretty overwhelming. Trips to theaters were, for me, practically like going to religious services; the communal aspect, the lighting, the temple-like décor — everything told you that you were doing something special and important. The emotions I felt were heightened; every second on the screen, every sound from the speakers had meaning. These moments were happening now; I didn’t know when my next trip to the theater would be, so I had to pay attention.

So for 6- or 7-year-old me, seeing Herbie the Love Bug, who was kind of a lovable anthropomorphic VW Beetle racecar, actually splitting in half to win the big race at the movie’s climax was intensely emotional and poignant; Herbie was a tragic hero, making the ultimate sacrifice for his friends. I didn’t know if he’d be OK again — I mean, he literally split in half, with one half rolling across the finish line. How do you survive that?

Decades later, I found myself as one of the directors of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Watching shots and giving notes in our digital dailies, I constantly imagined myself as a child, sitting in a darkened theater and watching Miles Morales (who actually looked something like me, which is a whole other thing) and his friends up onscreen, their moments of bonding, of heartbreak, of triumph, of heroic sacrifice. Young me, seeing that up on a gigantic screen? I know it would have been absolutely everything. I can barely comprehend how the dream I had as a child, to be part of that magic, has somehow come true.

Today there are pop-up drive-in movies being programmed as part of an effort to entertain, to take back some fun from the grip of the pandemic. I read that one series is featuring “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” as part of its lineup. Crazy, right?

I know that there will be little kids in their onesies under blankets in the back seat, happy and amazed that they’re out so late, being swept up in the light and the feeling coming from the gigantic screen. I know that, and I rejoice in it. I’m there with them, more than they could ever know.

Peter Ramsey is a director living in Los Angeles. He is the first African-American to be nominated for, and to win, an Oscar in the best animated feature category, for co-directing “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

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